Black Iowa Leaders Who Met With Ernst Feel Betrayed After Systemic Racism Attack

Ernst photo from July 10 event

By Elizabeth Meyer

September 16, 2020

Over the summer, in the midst of daily protests in Iowa and across the country decrying racial inequality and police brutality, Sen. Joni Ernst met with Black community leaders in Des Moines to hear their concerns and take ideas back to Washington, D.C.

Two months later, Ernst has turned the national conversation into a campaign tactic to attack her Democratic opponent, falsely accusing Theresa Greenfield of labeling all law enforcement officers as racists because Greenfield said the U.S. needs to “address systemic racism.”

Al Womble was one of 10 people who met with Ernst July 10 at Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad’s Creative Visions office.

“I will say to Joni Ernst, she was nice and charming while she was there, but obviously she didn’t listen,” Womble said. “If she did listen, obviously she dismissed it almost immediately when she left. If that’s the type of comment she makes, then I feel like there was no point for me to sit there and talk to you.”

The race-related attacks against Theresa Greenfield began earlier this month with a Breitbart article in which Ernst’s campaign “rebuked” the Democrat “for saying that there is ‘systemic racism’ in America’s law enforcement.”

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Embedded in the article is a nine-second video clip of an interview Greenfield recently did with WHO-TV. The video, titled “Greenfield Says Police Are Racist,” is unlisted on YouTube, posted by an anonymous account with no other videos, and cuts the candidate off after she says, “We do need to address systemic racism, not only in our policing but in our housing policies … ”

Here is the full exchange between Greenfield and WHO host Dave Price:

Price: “What does defund the police mean to you as a senator?”

Greenfield: “I don’t support defunding the police, so I can’t explain that for you this morning, Dave, but I can tell you we do need to address systemic racism, not only in our policing but in our housing policies and systems, in education, in health care, in financing, lending, and so much more. For me, that is a serious conversation about reforms. We need to sit down and take a look at how we reform all of these systems to make sure that we end racism and discrimination.”

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From this interview, Ernst and her campaign have equated Greenfield’s acknowledgment of systemic racism with saying she believes all law enforcement officers are racist.

“As radical liberals and the cancel culture movement sweeps through our communities, Theresa Greenfield put her liberal extremist views on full display calling all Iowa police departments racist,” an Ernst campaign spokesperson told Breitbart.

Rev. Rob Johnson, who also attended the meeting at Creative Visions, said “we were clear with Sen. Joni Ernst that systematic racism is not just about police officers.”

“It is about disparities in the system,” he said, “where Black people are leading in numbers that are not so positive. … Whether somebody is racist or not, that’s neither here nor there. If the policy allows for you to discriminate or allows for you to push back or allows for you to get away with racism, that’s what we’re talking about.

“Nobody is saying that cops are racist,” Johnson said, “We’re saying we got to fix the system.”

Womble agreed.

“When we talk about systemic racism, it’s not just about particular individuals, it’s about the system itself — how it’s set up, how it’s designed, how do they recruit and help maintain Black people,” Womble said. “It’s not a matter that we think police officers are hateful, but … I need to understand that if I’m in trouble, if I’m in danger, I can call the police without feeling like I’m suddenly going to become the victim.”

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Even President Trump, when pressed in an interview with journalist Bob Woodward, admitted institutional racism is an issue that impacts people in America.

“I think it is, and it’s unfortunate, but I think it is,” Trump said.

Ernst’s Republican colleague, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, talked about his own definition of “systemic racism” in a debate earlier this week, connecting it to legislation on law enforcement.

“There is systemic racism in this culture, and we need to work on it,” Tillis said, adding that “is exactly why” he worked on a bill to increase standards for police officers and get resources for body cameras.

An ABC 5 article titled Ernst’s July visit to Creative Visions as “Sen. Ernst Talks Systemic Racism During Des Moines Visit,” and Ernst’s campaign did not publicly protest that characterization.

“Honestly, Joni and Theresa should both be on the same side when it comes to this,” said Johnson, who endorsed Greenfield in August. “This isn’t Black versus white. This isn’t a Democrat versus a Republican. This isn’t Black versus police, it’s everybody versus injustice, that’s what this is. It doesn’t matter whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ behind your name, what matters is that when problems occur, we stand up for what’s right.”

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Despite addressing the “unfairness someone faces due to their skin color” during a speech this summer on the Senate floor, at a Republican event Sept. 6 in Crawford County, Ernst riled up her conservative base by telling the crowd, “My opponent just about a week ago, said that our law enforcement officials, right here in the state of Iowa, are systemically racist.”

“Systemically racist,” Ernst continued, “which means that every single sheriff’s deputy, sheriff, every police officer, every trooper out there, she’s calling them racist. I don’t believe that, do you? No. … I’m going to stand with our men and women in blue.”

Listen to Ernst’s comments here:

For Womble, Ernst’s about-face is an example of why so many people are distrustful of politicians.

“You go someplace else and you say the exact opposite thing to another audience so you can tell them what they want to hear,” Womble said. “That makes me say, I don’t trust you.”

He continued: “Not only did you lie to me, not only did you not pay attention to what we said, you’re inciting the type of ugly attitude in those other people that are going to make the situation far, far worse. You sit there and say, ‘Oh, they think all cops are racist.’ That’s not only going to raise their ire towards Theresa Greenfield, it’s also going to raise their ire towards Black people. That’s what you’re doing. You’re going to make it harder for those of us who are actually working for civil rights and those of us who are actually working on social justice. You’re making it harder for us to do that, and you’re making it unsafe.”


Rev. Johnson posed a question he wants Ernst to answer: “Is there a problem in America when it comes to how police treat Black people?”

“And if she says no,” Johnson said, “then we know that she is out of touch with this current movement for social justice.”


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 9/16/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.



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